Dear Blog Diary…about this Athens – Venice cruise. How are we to share the excitement of seven days aboard a snazzy ship with Greek Island and Croatian pit stops when on board wifi is so damn satellite exy? FB snapshots backed up with a spot of diary musings for later free wifi gratuitous blog over-sharing natch! A good thing lovely readers for I suspect excessive complementary cocktails may just compromise a girl’s writing skills (sorry – not sorry). For the curious, here are the outcomes:
Tuesday: Throw the ropes off, good bye Athens, 4.30pm, 235 fellow passengers, heading for the Corinth Canal. Rather spech boat the Le Lyrical, brushing up on French, the ship’s first language. View the ship being gently guided through the canal by the ‘tiny tugboat that could’ on top deck. Accompanied by a Violinist. And French champagne. And a great deal of oh la la! Hit the cabin doona 11pm a little bit tipsy on excitement and exhaustion…and champers…and that nightcap in the piano bar.
Just a little curious about the Corinth Canal? Well the canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. Cutting through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth, it separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former an island.
The canal is 6.4 kilometers in length, only 21.3 meters wide at its base, earth cliffs flanking either side reach up to 63 meters in height. A dream that dates back over 2000 years, finally accomplished 1893. Ironically, aside from a few modest sized cruise ships like the Le Lyrial, the Corinth Canal is unserviceable to most modern ships. Damn fine place for bungy jumping though! There you go.
Wednesday: Anchor off Zakinthos, Greece. Leisurely breakfast on pool deck, board the shore excursion boat, wander around with vague intent on buying a hat, nope, shops closed, it’s siesta time. Substitute with a G&T or three, free wifi in a hip little cafe and a snap shot or two.
The interesting stuff: Inhabited from the Neolithic age. Homer, the famous Greek poet mentioned Zakynthos in his masterpieces the Iliad and the Odyssey. Lots of conquering along the way.
Tolmides, the Athenian military commander concluded an alliance with the Island between 446 and 459 BC during the First Peloponnesian War to source tar from the island’s lakes to protect the planking on their shipping fleet. Better than pitch which is made from pine trees.
And did you know that during Nazi occupation of Greece, the Mayor and Bishop at the time refused Nazi orders to turn in the town’s Jewish community for deportation to the death camps, instead hiding all 275 of them in rural villages. All survived.
Also prime nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles. Also known for the beautiful Navagio beach and limestone caves. We’ll be checking out similar tomorrow.
Finish day with cocktail of the day (Apple-Tizer), Captain’s own welcome cocktail (free for all – choices, choices!), Gala dinner in posh restaurant, check out the pianist (stardust memories), crash.
Thursday: Paxos ‘n Antipaxos smallest group of Ionian Islands, brilliant azure blue waters, pretty villages, wall to wall yachts, sunburnt snouts.
First up fresh juice, bespoke omelette, coffee then grab ship provided Palms (fins) face-masks and snorkels, towels and water, slap on sunscreen and swim-suits and jump aboard a smaller boat to explore Paxos and Antipaxos. Limestone caves, startlingly clear aqua waters, beach pebbles that tickle underfoot, bombs straight off the back of the boat and a bunch of sun crazed water lovers making for a fun, pleasantly exhaustive day.
According to Greek mythology, Poseidon created the island by striking Corfu with his trident, so that he and wife Amphitrite could have some peace and quiet. Peaceful. Quiet. Poseidon nailed it.
Dodge dancing classes, dine a la carte, hit top deck where the place is going off like a frog in a sock (pardon pun, boat is full of French folk after all), fall sleep in Albania, wake up in Montenegro. The water a millpond.
Friday: Squeezed into Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor (or ‘the Bokor’ as known by the locals) to the strings of Tchaikovsky; greeted by the monastery’s delicate bells in response to three brash honks from the ship’s horn, as is customary. Held my breath, what if the bell ringer neglects his duty and blows this age old tradition? He didn’t, phew! Next stop Dubrovnik.
Croatia! First up – Dubrovnik.
Sooo…really did climb all over Dubrovnik – my new favourite European city for quaintness, and cats, and Game of Thrones déjà vu moments, and that drawbridge, and, and…
Another UNESCO and no surprises for this distinctive medieval city is surrounded by 2klm of massive stone ramparts built between the 11th and 17th centuries. Well-preserved buildings ranging from the baroque St. Blaise Church to Renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rector’s Palace, now a history museum, the Stradun (or Placa) paved with limestone and lined with shops and restaurants. And tourists. Must. Walk. Wall. Backdrop for G.o.T ‘King’s Landing’ and many, many movies.
Skip mariner swim off the back of the boat, snuggle into bathrobes, pour G&T, dine in with a movie.
Saturday: Quick coffee, jump on board shore excursion boat, quick hike to Mjlet’s crystal clear lakes, more coffee, back on board and on to Korkula.
Korcula equals brilliant medieval town planners! Curved streets one side, straight the other in a fishbone zigzag to capture best breezes and all leading to bell tower at the top. Bit of a story about Marco Polo. Impossible to get lost, here’s proof we didn’t:
We have the port to ourselves and it’s no mean feat swinging the ship into her station but of course the captain nails it! Straight on shore for a quick explore followed by a soothing G&T before wandering back to our floating home.
Did you know that during the First World War, the island (among other territorial gains) was promised to the Kingdom of Italy in the 1915 Treaty of London in return for Italy joining the war on the side of Great Britain and France? Just one of the many takeovers Korcula and her counterparts have experienced over the centuries.
Skip every kind of class back on board, throw back a ‘Le Fruit Defendu’ cocktail of the day, dine posh, sup a particularly pleasant Merlot, check out dancers, wind down with a soothing tea (yes! On the odd occasion we drank non alcoholic beverages, very odd indeed)
Sunday: Hvar! Small medieval fortification, big reputation, three UNESCO heritage listings – greedy huh? (more on blog when free wifi kicks back in). Crisp green waters against a backdrop of dusky Olive and rich purple Lavender, and just a spot of foliage persistence.
But first up and at ’em with Birchers muesli, fresh baguette smothered in lurpac, coffee; followed by liberal sunscreen and sensible shoes (no, that’s a fib, sneakers don’t work with my silk numbers) and off to explore. This place:
Consistently listed in Conde Naste’s top 10 islands, the most popular tourist destination in the Croatian Islands thanks to excellent marketing in its early days – ‘come for seven days and if it rains or snows on one of them, you’ll get your money back’. Given it’s the sunniest of them all, temps rarely below 13 degrees, a pretty sure bet! What’s more, a harbour of brilliant aqua makes you want to dive in boots and all.
A quaint Franciscan monastery, it’s walled sanctuary centering on a Renaissance cloister, with a 900 year old pine tree in the courtyard. The museum is home to a magnificent 17th-century painting of the Last Supper. A large limestone paved public square (St Stephen’s) that’s anchored by a Renaissance-era cathedral and open to the sea. Oh! And a port filled with Yachts. Big ones!
Back on board in time to watch a serious ‘I demand to speak to the manager’ scrabble for Laduree Macarons, attempt a quiz with our swelling bunch of friends (mostly Australian – you know – the noisy ones) and lose most in translation, casual dinner on deck, check out dancers and sneak off to bed.
Monday: Opatija…try saying that with a mouth full of cracker! The city feels like Cannes, like the riviera of Croatia, the place where the Russian Oligarch spend their vacations. Pretty.
A sleep-in, breakfast of kings, then off to explore ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’, renowned for its beautiful architecture, quality hotels, well tended botanical park that protects over 160 species. Particularly enamoured with Vila Angiolina built in 1844 by Iginio Scarpa, once hosting a myriad of famous guests ranging from Albert Einstein to James Joyce, now a museum.
Snapshots of the ‘Maiden with the seagull’, a statue by Zvonko Car (1956) positioned on a promontory by the Juraj Šporer art pavilion, a wander along the promenade to view the luxurious hotels, a G&T and toast to this our last excursion.
Tonight our grand captain’s farewell dinner, a chance to swap FB and email addresses with our new friends Pascale and Brigette, Debbie and Peter, Jenny and Ann and our lovely US friend Marjorie, now in her late 70’s, a party reveller hell bent on spending her kid’s inheritance by inviting them along, effectively guaranteeing their attention. Couldn’t think of a better way to do so than take a cruise along the Dalmatian coast, could you?
Tuesday: Venice, a perfect opportunity to say farewell to the Le Lyrial via the bow as we make our way into port…